Using Business to Fight for Human Rights
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
There’s a confidence in Nick Alm’s stride as he walks and in his voice as he talks.
The 21-year-old is two months away from graduation, but he not only already knows his first career move—he feels as though he’s found a calling that extends far beyond a specific position or profession.
“My life is going to be dedicated to LGBT issues,” he says.
Alm is the co-founder and executive director of Mossier, a nonprofit with a dual ambition of boosting LGBT rights around the globe through economic empowerment while also creating an intergenerational activism movement in Minnesota. He also co-created the Carlson School’s first undergraduate LGBT group last year.
Mossier, which launched earlier this year and is short for the Mossier Social Action and Innovation Center, supports LGBT-owned businesses in Kenya, Uganda, and the Dominican Republic, including a pig farm that employs transgender individuals and an LGBT-operated taxi service.
It’s also providing paid internships to University of Minnesota students—so far, 11 students from the Carlson School and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs have participated—to prepare them for jobs in social impact ventures, corporate social responsibility, or international development.
“We’re saying, we’re going to do both: We’re going to focus on Minnesota, we’re going to focus on getting people up on their feet and fighting in this movement, and we’re going to do the same thing internationally, and we’re going to do it in a way that’s mutually beneficial,” says Alm, who will turn his attention to Mossier full time after graduation.
Origin of an organization
The idea behind Mossier emerged from Alm’s internship with Conlego, a Minneapolis consulting firm that specializes in the social impact sphere, in the summer of 2016. Charlie Rounds, a retired business executive and devoted LGBT rights activist, approached Conlego for help assisting nascent small businesses in Kenya and Uganda.
“So I Skyped Kenya and Uganda for three months,” Alm recalls. “After the summer was up, we decided we could really create an organization that was an umbrella for these projects.”
Mossier was born. It takes its name from the late Kevin J. Mossier, the founder of the groundbreaking gay travel company RSVP Vacations and whose foundation provided the seed funding for the nonprofit.
Alm says he and Rounds’ relationship represents a core part of Mossier’s mission: connecting LGBT activists across generations.
“I don’t have LGBT parents and I probably won’t have LGBT children, so I really am missing out, in a sense, on this shared history that you might get in the Jewish community or the African-American community,” he says. “And on top of it, no one was taught LGBT history in social studies.”
Alm says he “never in a million years” expected to get so involved in LGBT activism. He decided to invest himself in raising issues around diversity and inclusion as a sophomore after struggling through his first year at Carlson. He credits the staff in the undergraduate advising office, where he worked for the summer after his freshman year, with providing the support that helped him resist dropping out.
“There were some amazing people here, students and faculty that stepped up and said, ‘Yeah, I want to talk about this too, and I actually don’t just want to talk about it, I want to do something about it,’” says Alm, who is also a first-generation college student.
"My life is going to be dedicated to LGBT issues."
In May 2016, Alm and four other students founded Compass, a Carlson-based LGBT student organization that’s open to students from across the University. He says it differs from other campus LGBT groups in its strong focus on professional development. Last October, Compass held a “Coming Out” event in the Carlson Atrium featuring a panel discussion by local LGBT executives. On October 12, the group is hosting a Carlson LGBT alumni reunion in the Carlson School Atrium.
“One of the big issues that I struggled with when I came here was that there just weren’t any role models for me to look up to,” says Alm. “And I think a lot of people struggle with that—and not just LGBT people. It’s women, it’s people of color.”
‘A dream job’
The notion that business can help empower members of historically underrepresented populations has carried over into Alm’s newest project. In fact, it’s essentially Mossier’s guiding philosophy: Economic success will lift up LGBT entrepreneurs, workers, and communities, allowing them to build grassroots activist movements in countries with harsher views—and oftentimes laws—on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Alm admits it’s a daunting challenge. But it’s one he embraces wholeheartedly.
“I say to people, I think this is like when people talk about dream jobs, this is kind of a dream job,” he says.
“I’m going to keep going with this and do everything I can. If I’m here for 10 years, great. If this is my job for the rest of my life, that’d be cool. That’d be really cool.”